a city by the water: spaghetti alle vongole

In Venice any standard sense of time and space collapses. There are no cars. Addresses are according to neighbourhood and not by street. There are streets so narrow that I cannot stretch my arms out straight. Getting lost is a natural part of getting around. Rarely do I know the name of the street that I am on; however I always do seem to know how to find my way to the city's seafood market.

Living by the sea is certainly magical. The city where I am usually living these days is north of the Alps. On clear days it has great views of those mountains, but landlocked it certainly is. On the contrary, the sea defines Venice. And the seafood from its local waters defines its cuisine. 

Spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti with clams, is one of those simple yet brilliant Italian dishes that is more than the sum of its parts. Some say that the recipes originates from Venice and others say that Naples is the city of its birth. Because I am not too fussy about labels, I think that this recipe belongs wherever there are fresh clams. And Venice has them by the boatload. It amazes me that the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea are still so generous when it comes to the variety and quality of seafood. Good seafood doesn't need much when it comes to preperation, just a little seasoning and some good olive oil or freshly squeeze lemon juice. Spaghetti alle vongole exemplifies this.

This recipe is pretty classic and is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. He is pro when it comes to adding cherry tomatoes - spaghetti alle vongole in rosso - and as I tend to be more con - spaghetti alle vongole in bianco - regarding this touchy topic, I have left them out. In fact, it seems that most food related things prove to be touchy topics here in Italy, but I'll leave that point for another day. I'll just express that personally I feel that spaghetti alle vongole is perfect enough with just clams, parley, garlic, white wine and red chili. Sorry tomatoes. I'll save you for something else.

This dish is all about timing. Nothing about it is complicated; you just have to start cooking the clams so that they'll be ready at just the same moment that the pasta is cooked. That and you need to live somewhere where there are fresh clams by the boatload.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

adapted from Jamie Oliver 

serves 2


500 grams small clams, scrubbed clean
a large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
125 ml dry white wine
200 grams dried spaghetti
a pinch of red chili flakes (Peperoncino), or to taste
olive oil (preferably virgin for cooking and extra virgin for finishing)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water heats up, wash and sort through the clams. Give any clams that have opened a strong tap on a wooden cutting board. If they do not close then discard them. Wash the parsley well. Separate the stalks from the leaves and finely chop both, keeping them apart. Peel and chop the garlic. 

Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water and then add the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions. Approximately five minutes before the pasta is ready, heat a large pan over medium heat and add a few glugs of olive oil (preferably virgin). Add the garlic, parsley stalks, salt and pepper. Give everything a good stir and then add the red chili flakes. Once the garlic begins to colour add the clams and the wine. Cover the pan with a lid and shuffle the pan occasionally to make sure that all of the clams open up. This should take about 3-4 minutes. Take the pan off of the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. 

Your pasta should now be cooked. Drain the pasta and then add it to the pan with the clam along with the parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Give everything a good toss. Give everything another good toss to make sure that the spaghetti absorbs the juices from the clams. 

Serve right away. And you probably should serve this with some bread to mop up those juices. 


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